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Sticky Japanese Eggplant
Jun 5th, 2006

A lot of cooks develop a repertoire of recipes that they feel comfortable with. They've prepared the dishes many times and know they'll turn out well and can be depended on when cooking for a specific occasion. The collection presented in Recipes: a collection for the modern cook is the repertoire of the author, Susan Spungen, who worked with Martha Stewart for years on magazines and cookbook and presumably feels that these dishes will resonate with a lot of home cooks as well. As something of a cookbook collector (that's my husband laughing hysterically right now, but really it's not an addiction, I can stop anytime) I'm certainly not the type to just buy one or two cookbooks and call it good. Does anyone do that these days? If so, I admire their iron will and self-restraint. But if you were so inclined, I think you could just cook solely out of this cookbook and be considered a good well-rounded cook, although you'd be on your own with breakfast which isn't really mentioned apart from a few brunch dishes.

Spungen covers all the basics, dishes for weeknight dinners, casual entertaining, summer barbecues, etc., but with a modern twist. I would call her recipes fashionable without being super trendy, mostly French and Italian inspired with a garnish or two from Asia and traditional American cuisine. The book is divided into sections based on technique: Prepare (pantry staples and basics), Chop, Saute, Grill, Roast, Bake, Simmer & Braise, and Indulge (desserts). Recipes are fairly streamlined and straightforward, and techniques are explained so you could probably cook out of this book without much prior experience. The most complicated dish in the book is a Provencal Layered Omelet, which consists of three flat omelets with different fillings layered on top of eachother, and which I will most definitely try soon. The book is very attractively laid out, with a picture accompanying just about every recipe.

Other recipes that caught my eye include: Thai Cole Slaw, Potato Tostones, Grill-Roasted Lemongrass Chicken, Rigatoni with Squash & Caramelized Onions, an Italian Shepherd's Pie, and the following Sticky Japanese Eggplant. I purchased some Japanese eggplant, yellow miso, and instant dashi (soup base) during my recent expedition to Uwajimaya, and was having a bit of a trip to Japan in my kitchen on Saturday. The eggplant dish was great with jasmine rice, roast chicken and a cup of miso as a starter, but was even better the next day for lunch stir-fried with some firm tofu and served over brown rice. You'll definitely want rice or something else bland to serve with the eggplant as it has a very intense salty and savory taste. I loved it, but without the bland rice or tofu, it verged on too much. The rice rounded out the edges and completed the taste. Also, the soy sauce I had on hand was not the reduced sodium kind that she calls for in the recipe and next time I think it would be worth going out and getting some, as the salt content with regular soy seemed a bit high. So think about picking some up when you're grabbing a bottle of sake for the glaze. I'll definitely be adding this dish to my repertoire, it's easy, tasty, and works great with a meal featuring meat or fish or with tofu if you're cooking for vegetarians.


Sticky Japanese Eggplant

1/2 cup sake or dry white wine
2 tbsp white or yellow miso
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
Large pinch of red pepper flakes
3 medium to large Japanese eggplant (about 1 pound)
2 tbsp light olive oil or vegetable oil
Kosher salt
Handful of Thai basil, basil, or mint leaves, torn if large


Make the glaze: Bring the sake to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the miso and whisk until it is dissolved. Add the sugar, soy sauce, and red pepper flakes. Continue to stir until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture comes to a boil. As soon as it boils, turn off the heat and set aside.

Cut the eggplant into 1/2- to 3/4-inch disks. Heat a large nonstick frying pan over high heat. Add 1/2 tbsp of oil and about half the eggplant in a single layer, and sprinkle with salt. Press down gently with a wide spatula and swirl the pan frequently to encourage even browning. Once well browned, 3 to 5 minutes, turn over each piece. Drizzle in another 1/2 tbsp of oil, sprinkle with salt, and repeat procedure. The eggplant should be well browned on both sides and soft and creamy on the inside. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Repeat with the rest of the eggplant.

When all the eggplant has been browned, return all of it to the pan. Add the glaze and toss well to combine. Bring to a boil and toss until the eggplant is well coated with the glaze. Add the herbs and toss to combine. Serve immediately.

-Recipes: A Collection for the Modern Cook, Susan Spungen
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© 2006, Kimberly Cooperrider | kymmco@excite.com